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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, recent improvements have been made to the clarity of documents, including the Order Paper and new format Committee reports. Official documents are also available on the Internet and Intranet, and may be printed at whatever size type is most convenient.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is as totally committed as any Member of this House to placing people with sight problems on the same footing as those of us who can access standard print. Is he aware that the European Commission, among many other institutions, already has a transcription centre to transfer printed documents into formats such as large print, electronic, audio and Braille? Are there any plans to provide transcription facilities here in consultation with organisations such as the RNIB to make information available in these other formats for Peers, employees and visitors with visual impairments that make it difficult or impossible for them to access standard print?
The House endeavours to respond to demand from individual Members and members of staff with visual impairments to provide them with the appropriate support to allow them to carry out their work. I am of course always willing to receive requests for additional support. In recent years, we have worked closely with the RNIB to make improvements in providing information for visually impaired Members and staff in a suitable format. In addition, the brief guide to the House of Lords is now available in Braille to visitors and work is being done to make the brief guide available in audio format.
Baroness David: My Lords, I am glad that there will be a general review but could whoever is responsible for it pay particular attention to the lighting on steps and stairs, because that is what some of us who are visually impaired find particularly difficult?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I was not aware of the problem with lighting; I will now see what can be done to improve it. I would say only that if noble Lords have problems that they feel should be considered, please come to my office or Black Rod's office and we will see what we can do.
Lord Addington: My Lords, although thanking the noble Lord in advance for the individual reaction that he is taking to disabilities in this House, will he inform us exactly what co-ordination there is between the different types of problems and their solutions within the House? For instance, a good, solid hand rail will help someone who is visually impaired and someone who has movement difficulties.
What sort of process is there to ensure that ongoing improvements in aids such as voice operation software, which speaks back to you and to which you can speak, can be worked into what is available as the normal package in the House?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I would hope that we will continue to have meetings with the RNIB, as we have had in recent years. I am very happy to meet again if that would help. I am sure that that would lead to the sort of improvements for which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, looks.
As for co-ordination, again, I would hope that people would come to me if they have suggestions to make. As I said, a survey of the House is under way to consider how not just visually impaired people but all people with a disability can be assisted. I believe that the survey will report early in the New Year, and I hope will provide useful suggestions.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, while accepting that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not apply here, does the Chairman of Committees agree that Parliament should as far as possible provide help no less favourable than best practice outside?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: Indeed, my Lords. Although technically speaking the DDA does not apply to the Palace, because of Crown immunity or whatever, we tryI hope we succeedto fulfil the requirements laid down for us.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees agree that the in-house transcription mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, would also have the added benefit that it would be useful for those sighted Peers who receive correspondence in Braille from people with disabilities to enable them to carry out their parliamentary duties?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an interesting point. I have not been made aware of problems with Peers receiving material in Braille that needs to be translated. I have been considering the matter the other way round: where text needs to be translated into Braille. It is an interesting point that we should consider translating Braille into text. Translation services are available to us, which I am sure could fulfil that role as well.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, it is one thing for the noble Lord, and the organisation generally, to respond to requests from individual PeersI am delighted that that happens. However, could the noble Lord be a little more pre-emptive? Is information collected on the number of Members of this House who have a sight problem and what would be their preferred format in which to receive information, if they cannot use the facilities provided?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I do not believe that information is collected in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, describes. As he suggests, we are more reactive than proactive; obviously, we do not want to make available facilities that are not required, because of the expense that goes with that.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I occasionally find myself very embarrassed going down the staircase from the Committee Rooms? When I start, there is no one there. By the time I have got down, the whole staircase has been blocked by my being so slow. It is the going down which is the problem for people with bad eyesightwith one eye, and so on. As the noble Lord asked for suggestions, I let him have my view.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government take very seriously the problems posed by abandoned vehicles. We are taking a number of initiatives to reduce their incidence. We have enabled local authorities to remove such vehicles more quickly by reducing the statutory notice period for removal and giving them wheel-clamping powers. We are introducing continuous registration in January 2004, and will ensure provision of free take-back and treatment for all end-of-life vehicles by January 2007.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Is he not disappointed that the number of abandoned vehicles is very much on the rise? London continues to have the highest number, which increased by 84,000 in 200001. More worrying is the position of Yorkshire and Humber, where the number of abandoned vehicles has increased by 54 per cent, and the eastern area, where there has been a 47 per cent increase. How does the Minister expect the police to cope with that when the Home Office's own figures of 17th November reported that rural crime had trebled since 1980?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, any relationship to rural crime is caused by entirely different social factors. The increase in abandoned cars is largely explicable by the drastic fall in scrap metal prices. One gets virtually nothing for a scrapped car. For that reason, and because of the non-registration and illegal driving of cars, there has been a significant increase. The combination of the greater powers that we have already given local authorities to remove abandoned cars, better co-ordination between authorities and, shortly, continuous registration will place responsibility on owners and give local authorities and police more powers.
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